A Labour man in a Labour job. What’s not to like about Andrew Adonis?

October 9th, 2015


Don Brind on Friday

The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell likes to get away from politics by sailing his little Skipper 17 trailer sailer on the Norfolk Broads, he told the Eastern Daily Press.  McDonnell was brought up in Great Yarmouth where the three Broads rivers enter the sea. Like all lovers of Broads sailing he will know that the worst part of the experience has been getting there. Bottlenecks in the A11 have long been a nightmare.

The then Transport Secretary, Andrew Adonis took the train to Norwich in 2010 with a solution. A re-elected Labour government he promised was “committed to completing the dualling of the A11 with construction beginning this year.” He had a real passion for his brief and as Labour press officer in the General Election I found it an easy sell. It went down well with the EDP and the rest of the regional media. It couldn’t, however, prevent a string of Labour losses in Norfolk and Suffolk and Adonis next turns up as one of the negotiators with Nick Clegg seeking to create a Labour Lib Dem coalition. His Five Days in May is a definitive account of Labour’s unsuccessful quest to hold on to power.

So, he never got the chance to make good on his announcement. The Coalition government eventually picked up the scheme and announced its completion in 2014.

Adonis was an influential figure under Ed Miliband who spotted that the Coalition were pretty rubbish at infrastructure planning. In 2012 the Labour leader set up an independent review under Sir John Amrit and followed this up by putting Adonis in charge of a growth commission which reported in July 2014. The aim of Miliband’s policy was to build a political consensus for pushing ahead with big infrastructure policies. That policy has been vindicated Chancellor George Osborne’s appointment of Adonis.

    The smart response from Labour is to welcome it but to question whether Osborne can deliver given his approach to austerity. The appointment gives McDonnell a platform to argue for his growth strategy for cutting the deficit.

Steve Richards underlines the gap between Osborne’s ambition and his budget plans.  “It does not cost very much money to hire Lord Adonis to run an Infrastructure Commission, but it is very expensive to build infrastructure. Osborne does not want to borrow for capital spending even though he could raise the money at bargain interest rates.” The fact is that McDonnell and Labour’s willingness to borrow to fund infrastructure would give Adonis a better chance of success.

    Anyone in the Labour Party who is not concerned about the ambition to extend the Tory appeal revealed by Osborne and the David Cameron in Manchester is being absurdly complacent. 

But they are only ambitions.

Their rhetoric clashes at many points with the reality of what the Government is doing. Take, for instance, the critique of Osborne’s Northern powerhouse, by Jim McMahon the Leader of Oldham Council  “Getting local areas to deliver the Work Programme for instance isn’t devolution, it’s just recommissioning. Taking over £78m from stamp duty income in Greater Manchester and giving back just £30m to boost housing development isn’t really devolution either.”

There is plenty of scope for Labour front bench teams at Westminster to produce similar forensic work on other Tory government policies. Cameron and Osborne have locked themselves into their cuts to family tax credits offering Labour the opportunity for a board-based national campaign which will have at least tacit support from the Mail and the Sun.

Similarly, the forced sale of social housing is likely to be an embarrassment to Zac Goldsmith in the London Mayoral campaign.

 The Cameron and Osborne speeches made me think they had been reading Lord Ashcroft. No. Not that book.

With a month to go to the General Election, the estranged Tory peer reported on one of his series of focus groups. The key finding was that the parties were reinforcing the views that voters held of them. “They cannot change in four weeks what they have been unable or unwilling to change in five years.” His point was that both Tory and Labour need to broaden their appeal. Cameron and Osborne showed this week that they get it. The majority of Labour MPs on the front and back benches also get it.

What they would dearly love to hear, when he’s back from his well-earned holiday and the euphoria of his landslide victory abates, is that their leader gets it too.


Local By-Election Preview : October 8th 2015

October 8th, 2015

Bolsover South on Bolsover (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Labour 32, Independents 5 (Labour majority of 27)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Two Labour HOLDS elected unopposed
Candidates duly nominated: Juliet Armstrong (Con), John Bagshaw (UKIP), Pat Cooper (Lab), Jon Dale (TUSC)

Dennis Skinner, the Labour member for Bolsover since 1970, has often been referred to as “the Beast of Bolsover” due to the comments he has made on several occasions during Black Rod’s command to “attend Her Majesty in the House of Peers” although that said it should be noted that this year after the general election, he was silent. The council has also been similarly Labour dominated and only once (in 2007) did the number of Labour councillors fall below 30 as in that election Labour lost four seats (one to the Independents, two to Ratepayers and one to Respect) and although Labour recovered those seats in 2011 the Greens made an appearance (sadly for them not long lived) which means that over the space of twelve years in Bolsover’s electoral history there has been one net Labour gain at the expense of the Independents suggesting that UKIP may have designs on the council.

Aird and Loch Ness on Highland (SNP defence)
Result of council at last election (2012): Independents 33, Scottish National Party 22, Liberal Democrats 15, Labour 8, Non Party Independents 2 (No Overall Control, Independents short by 8)
Result of ward last last election (2012) : Emboldened denotes elected
Independents 659, 1,194 (46%)
Scottish National Party 840, 287 (28%)
Liberal Democrats 498 (12%)
Conservatives 279 (7%)
Labour 221 (5%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 66 (2%)
Candidates duly nominated: George Cruickshank (Con), Jean Davis (Lib Dem), Zofia Fraser (Ind), Emma Knox (SNP), Vikki Trelfer (Green)

The Scottish Highlands are a strange electoral beast (rather like Nessie who is said to live in Loch Ness which this ward covers). On the face of it, it’s an Independent heartland (68% of the wards elected an Independent in 1995, 63% in 1999, 71% in 2003, 44% in 2007 and 44% in 2012) and yet behind that you had the Liberal Democrats winning every Westminster constituency in the Highlands with the exception of Inverness until 2005 when Danny Alexander won but all were swept aside in the SNP landslide of 2015 (a move pre-empted by the SNP winning Inverness in the 1999 Holyrood Parliament elections and then sweeping the other two seats in 2011) but as we saw last week the SNP versus the Independents is not the pushover that the SNP has been having against the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats and in an area with a very strong Independent vote, will the SNP be able to hold their 17th by-election in a row (the majority caused by SNP councillors being elected to Westminster)

Totnes on South Hams (Green defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 25, Greens 3, Liberal Democrats 2, Labour 1 (Conservative majority of 19)
Result of ward at last election (2015) : Emboldened denotes elected
Green Party 2,215, 1,839 (33%)
Labour 1,265, 1,111, 928 (19%)
Liberal Democrats 1,150 (17%)
Conservatives 1,137, 815, 754 (17%)
United Kingdom Independence Party 693 (10%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist 349 (5%)
Candidates duly nominated: John Birch (Lib Dem), Ralph Clark (Con), Eleanor Cohen (Lab), John Green (Green), Peter Pirnie (Ind)

The Liberal Democrat collapse at the general election was felt nowhere more keenly than in the South West of England. At the 2010 general election the Liberal Democrats were the clear opposition to the Conservatives winning 15 seats and polling 35% to the Conservative’s 36 seats and 43%. However, that came to a crashing halt on May 7th as the Conservatives polled 47% of the vote and won 51 seats to the Liberal Democrats 15% of the vote and no MP’s (for the first time since 1959) losing 14 of those seats to the Conservatives and in local government it was even worse as demonstrated by the result in Totnes. At the last local elections in 2011 five Liberal Democrats were elected and they were the official opposition (a position that the Greens now find themselves in). Since then of course the Liberal Democrats have announced they are in fightback mode and so with three mainstream parties breathing down their necks (7% swing for Labour to gain and 8% for Liberal Democrats and Conservatives) as well as UKIP the Greens will be putting every single party member in the ward on the campaign trail.

Sandford and the Whittenhams on South Oxfordshire (Con defence)
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 33, Labour 1, Liberal Democrat 1, Independent 1 (Conservative majority of 30)
Result of ward at last election (2015): Conservative 1,030 (47%), Liberal Democrat 445 (20%), Labour 367 (17%), Green Party 343 (16%)
Candidates duly nominated: Sam Casey-Rerhaye (Green), Sue Lawson (Con), Jim Merritt (Lab), Simon Thompson (Lib Dem)

Goldsworth East (Lib Dem defence) and Goldsworth West (Lib Dem defence) on Woking
Result of council at last election (2015): Conservatives 24, Liberal Democrats 9, Labour 2, Independent 1 (Conservative majority of 12)

Result of wards at last election
Goldsworth East (2012)
Liberal Democrat 783 (40%), Conservative 680 (34%), Labour 350 (18%), United Kingdom Independence Party 168 (9%)
Candidates duly nominated: Jay Butcher (Lab), Sonia Elbaraka (Con), Tim Read (UKIP), James Sanderson (Lib Dem)

Goldsworth West (2014)
Liberal Democrat 467 (38%), Conservative 409 (33%), United Kingdom Independence Party 238 (19%), Labour 126 (10%)
Candidates duly nominated: Troy de Leon (UKIP), Tina Liddington (Lib Dem), Chitra Rana (Con), Robina Shaheen (Lab)

And whilst we are on the subject of a Lib Dem fightback these three wards are wards where the Liberal Democrats have to prove themselves against the Conservatives. In South Oxfordshire can they take a seat off the Conservatives (on a swing of 13.5%) and in Woking can they defend seats against the Conservatives (who need swings of less than 3%). If they gain Sandford but lose Goldsworth then the fightback may need a little investigating.


The 2016 White House race: The battles to secure the Republican and Democratic party nominations

October 8th, 2015

Real Clear Politics

Another Clinton vs Bush contest looks less certain

The above polling from the respected Quinnipiac University is of matchups between Democratic and Republican Party contenders in two of the key swing States that will decide next year’s White House Race – Ohio and Florida.

It comes at a critical time as the party establishments, donors and others who can influence the race get closer to deciding which of the contenders will get their support.

Even though the election itself on the first Tuesday in November next year is a long way off the primary battles, particularly in the Republican party, are gaining a lot of public interest as can be judged by the extra large audiences for the TV debates.

Obviously Donald Trump has had a big impact and he himself has boasted that the big TV networks want him to stay in because his presence will build up their audiences. He continues to lead in the polls both national and state ones but the margin is not quite as large as it was.

Trump has indicated that if his polling position deteriorates and he is no longer leading then he might leave the race

In the Democratic party contest Hillary Clinton is the presumed nominee but that entails an enormous amount of risk and everybody is watching to see whether the current Vice President, Joe Biden, decides to put his hat into the ring. The view is that he could damage Hilary quite a lot particularly in States with heavy concentrations of black Americans.

I’m not convinced about Joe Biden simply because of his age. If he got the nomination and won he would be in his late seventies towards the end of his presidential term. A number of commentators have observed that he is not ruling himself out just in case the Hillary campaign stumbles.

Mike Smithson


What we don’t know is whether the CON leadership contest will take place before or after the general election

October 8th, 2015


The leadership uncertainty remains

One thing that David Cameron made very clear in his speech is that he is going to continue as leader right up to the general election. That, of course, assumes that there will be no dramatic event that would cause a move before then.

The intention, of course, was to take some of the wind out of the sails of the inevitable leadership speculation that has continued throughout the conference. To an extent he probably succeeded.

The question remains, though, is will his replacement be selected before the general election or will that happen afterwards?

There are good arguments for going with either option. If Cameron plans to have this taking place before the election then at least voters will know who the party is putting forward for Prime Minister. The choice will between the new person and a Corbyn/Jarvis/DMillband/Another led LAB?

If Cameron decides that the selection should take place after the general election then it could raise all sorts of difficulties in terms of electors not knowing whom they are actually voting for as prime minister.

My sense is that Cameron will probably opt for the latter course if he is able to do so. He will want the kudos of a third General Election victory.

We also know that Cameron is more popular than his party and him leading at the next election could probably attract more support than the new person. Maybe we are talking about a Conservative contest taking place in late 2020 or early 2021.

Whatever the longer it will be before the contest the greater the chance of a surprise.

Mike Smithson


Local By-Election Preview : October 7th 2015

October 7th, 2015

Riverside on Cardiff (Lab defence)
Result of council at last election (2012): Labour 46, Liberal Democrats 16, Conservatives 7, Independents 3, Plaid Cymru 2, Heath Independent 1 (Labour majority of 17)
Result of ward at last election (2012) : Emboldened denotes elected
Labour 1,731, 1,555, 1,431(48%)
Plaid Cymru 1,153, 944, 940 (31%)
Conservatives 286, 276, 263 (8%)
Green Party 294, 272, 189 (8%)
Liberal Democrats 142, 129, 122 (4%)
Trade Unionist and Socialist 99 (1%)
Candidates duly nominated: Steffan Bateman (TUSC), Ruksana Begum (Plaid), Gareth Bennett (UKIP), Sean Driscoll (Con), Gwilym Owen (Lib Dem), Hannah Pudner (Green), Caro Wild (Lab)

Deja vu is defined as the feeling that is experienced when a person believes that they have lived through or experienced something before and for the electors of the Riverside ward that feeling is entirely justified as it’s only been two years since the last time they were asked to vote in a by-election. At that by-election Labour polled 50% of the vote (up 2%), Plaid Cymru polled 35% (up 4%), the Conservatives 5% (down 3%), the Liberal Democrats 3% (down 1%) and the TUSC candidate polled 3% (up 2%) with UKIP entering the field with a 4% vote share. Since then of course we have had the general election with a suggestion of Labour losing ground in Wales to the Conservatives but as this is a Labour / Plaid Cymru battleground ward it is interesting to note that in Cardiff at the general election the Labour vote increased by 4% and Plaid Cymru’s vote increased by 3% (suggesting that Labour should be able to hold off the Plaid challenge in this ward) although given that this is the sixth by-election to Cardiff since 2012 there’s a very strong chance Riverside could be doing this all over again before next November!

West Side and Ness / Taobh Siar Agus Nis on Western Isles (Ind defence)
Result of council at last election (2012): Independents 21, Scottish National Party 7, Labour 3 (Independent majority of 11)
Result of ward at last election (2012) : Emboldened denotes elected
Independents (80%)
Dunlop 94, MacLennan 119, Morrison 354 , MacKay 310 , Murray 289 E
Scottish National Party 298 (20%)
Candidate+s duly nominated: Richard Froggatt (Ind), Gavin Humphreys (Green), John MacLoed (Non Party Independent)

Deja vu is defined as the feeling that is experienced when a person believes that they have lived through or experienced something before (Hang on, haven’t I just said this?) and for the electors of West Side and Ness (Okay, this is a bit weird) this time they will actually have something to vote for (Phew, that’s a relief!). The last by-election in this ward was a complete non starter (as only one candidate was nominated) so it’s good that this time we do actually have an election (but strangely no SNP candidate) and I am wondering whether what happened in Moray last week may be a bit of a wake up call to the SNP and a way for the other parties in Scotland to halt the SNP surge that has been unchecked since the referendum, namely put an Independent candidate only against the SNP and see what happens!


Almost all of LAB’s current problems stem from eight years ago today when Gordon Brown recorded this interview

October 7th, 2015

The day an autumn 2007 vote was bottled

Eight years today an event took place from which, I’d argue, all Labour’s trouble stem – the decision by the then PM to call off what were very advanced plans to have an early general election.

Everything had been geared up for this to be called in the days after the Tory conference. Even a fleet of limousines to carry ministers about on had been booked and paid for.

Three months earlier Gordon had taken over as leader in an uncontested election and the polls turned from regular CON leads to regular LAB ones. By the end of September Ipsos-MORI recorded a 13% LAB margin and the talk was not whether Gordon would go to the country but of the red team securing a landslide.

Throughout September the new Brown government had been making a policy announcement a day, committing billions of pounds, in the build up to what was widely expected to be an early election. Even the manifesto was at an advanced stage.

    The big question was not whether there would be an early election but when it would be called.

As Labour’s poll ratings remained buoyant all the pressure was on Cameron who’d been almost totally blanked out of the news for months. Was this going to be the moment when his then short-lived leadership would come to an end? Everything rested on maximising the opportunity presented by the guaranteed coverage they’d get for their conference.

Cameron made what until today was his best conference speech and Osborne announced a big easing of IHT which went down very well with the media. Labour’s poll lead began to slip and by the Saturday Gordon had decided to end the speculation.

The above is the famous interview he recorded with Andrew Marr on October 7th 2007. His claims that there had been no change of mind because of the polls seemed totally implausible. Labour, and Brown personally, never recovered.

Mike Smithson


Cameron’s big speech – the first reactions

October 7th, 2015



Theresa May sends a strong reminder that she’s still in the race

October 7th, 2015


Even Boris’s sister has gone on the attack

If it was the Home Secretary’s intention yesterday to stir up some controversy and get big headlines this morning then the plan has worked very well.

Above is just a selection of papers which have made her conference speech the main story. The Independent, of course, is taking a strikingly different approach to the Daily Mail but in terms of impact that doesn’t matter.

Last night Rachel Johnson, the sister of Boris, went on the radio to attack the tone of Theresa May’s speech reinforcing the view that it had an impact.

This year’s Conservative Conference is the first since David Cameron announced in March that he would not be seeking a third term thus sparking off leadership speculation.

Judging by the betting markets and the Conservativehome regular polls of party members Theresa May has seen a steep drop in her position in the past 6 months. Along with Boris she has been hit most by the rise and rise of George Osborne and the now almost certain acceptance in many circles now that he is the heir apparent.

She has, however, several things going in her favour. Firstly she’s occupied the post of Home Secretary, for five and a half years and has managed to avoid many of the pitfalls that previous occupants of that job have experienced.

Secondly she is a woman and many Tories still look back to the glory days of their party when their leader was female. She was also state school educated in sharp contrast to Cameron, Osborne and of course Johnson. There are no lurid stories about fancy dining societies that she was part of while at Oxford.

The big question mark over her leadership prospects is whether under the party’s complex two stage leadership election system she could get through the first round where only Conservative MPs vote.

The second round is a ballot of the membership at large and only two candidates are put forward. If she got to that stage then memories of speeches like yesterday’s will be very important.

Mike Smithson